Julie Bonnar chats to Caroline Smith, designer and teacher at
Sew La Di Da Vintage, as she launches her latest retro
sewing pattern collection for children
Tell us a bit about how the business began?
After many years of working in industry as a bespoke designer, I found myself invited to teach a ’50s-inspired dress workshop at the V&A in London. Delighted, excited as well as daunted, I bought some commercial patterns and made a few dresses.
The sizing confused me so I studied the original pattern sizes and modern high street sizes. Commercial pattern sizes haven’t been up-sized since the ’70s while high street fashion has been up-sized several times over the intervening years. I collated all the sizes and found an average, workable size for each. After the workshop – and many happy customers – I realised that the success of the patterns was tangible and I set to develop more designs.
What made you decide to step into the vintage sewing pattern arena?
At the time, I had a vintage shop and made bespoke garments from vintage fabrics. I’ve always had a love affair and a fascination with the past, the history of clothing and the skills of yesteryear.
How would you describe your style?
My style is born out of my love of history and architecture, as well as glorious paintings and the tapestry of stories that sew together people’s lives.
Why do you think the vintage pattern collection has been so successful so far?
Although I’m inspired by the past, I’m passionate about encouraging beginners and rusty returns back to sewing. My experience of teaching led me to understand that sewing terminology could be made simpler, allowing all learners to engage easily with the instructions. I developed photographic step-by-step instructions to visually support the simple instructions. We now print our designs on paper using different colour guides for each size making it clear where to cut.
How has the range been received in the craft sector so far, and what sort of trends are you seeing?
We started with frocks, keeping them simple in style, that sold in my shop. It became clear that a skirt and shell top was in high demand from my beginners and as a result, Miss Maguire was born. That Christmas, my son came home and asked for a waistcoat that had a collar and was nipped in at the waist. He’d been inspired by one that he’d seen during his lunchtime spent at the V&A. That request that gave birth to Mr London. My daughter has always been my muse and I often imagine a garment with her in mind. My designs prove popular with teenagers right through to the more mature lady – the Margo playsuit being an excellent example.
What has been the best selling patterns so far?
Rose, Margo, and Sweetheart are still our big sellers followed by Blitz and Audrey.
My favourite is Margo, I love seeing the personalities of the girls making them come out in the garments. We’ve had military, nautical, lace cotton, denim and a fantastic Abba version of Margo in chiffon.
Are you in the process of developing new patterns, and if so can you give us a sneak preview of what to expect?
We’re currently developing children’s designs and loving every minute! I’m working on a
younger range called Frock star and watch this space as I’ve another idea developing that will be ready in 2017.
We’re always working on new ideas, responding to the interests and passions of our
varied audience. I love to observe, engage, listen to people and take inspiration from our ever-changing environment.
To find out more visit www.sewladidavintage.com.